The Saab 37 Viggen (Thunderbolt) was initially conceived to replace the Saab 32 Lansen (Lance) as a single-seat, single-engine fighter, reconnaissance and ground attack aircraft. The Viggen served the Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) operationally from 1972 until retirement in 2005 when it was replaced by the Saab 39 Gripen (Griffin).
The Heller 1/72 scale Viggen kit is getting a bit long of tooth but still provides the framework for a nice model of the famous Thunderbolt. Dating probably to the late ‘70s, the kit offers options for three versions of the aircraft – the AJ-37 Attack variant, the SK-37 Trainer version and the SF-37 (Spanings Foto) Photo Reconnaissance aircraft. The kit is crisply molded in gray styrene with raised panel lines, simplified but adequate cockpit(s) and ejection seats, sturdy landing gear, under wing pylons and an external fuel tank. Later boxings of the kit include an additional sprue with 4 Sidewinder style air-to-air missiles and a large centerline gun pod. Original Heller instructions are multi-lingual, well-illustrated and include 4-view splinter camouflage painting guides for all three versions. A small decal sheet provides markings for the three versions illustrated.
I try to complete at least one Swedish Air Force model each year to keep in touch with my Scandinavian heritage and to provide a bit of variety to the usual US, British and Russian aircraft in my collection. This time, my project was the Viggen SF-37 photo reconnaissance aircraft in the four color splinter camouflage scheme from the early days of the Viggen program. The build is relatively simple. The cockpit, nose gear well and exhaust/thrust reverser/afterburner assembly are trapped between the vertically split fuselage halves and the two piece nose of choice goes on the pointy end. The photo nose has a clear bottom half and, with appropriate masking, will protect the 5 clear camera ports. Or, as I did, the ports can be drilled out and filled in later with Testor’s Clear Parts Cement for the same clear effect. The large delta wing is in three pieces, a one piece bottom and a left and right side for the top. All in all, the plastic fit well with just a bit of putty for the two piece inlets and the vertical stab. Little to no detail in the gear wells, but aftermarket PE is available from several sources if you so desire. I added cockpit PE, a resin ejection seat and a KA/U22 Jamming pod, all from Maestro Models, to bring up the level of detail and add more interest to the build.
For me, the challenge in this build was the four color splinter camouflage scheme that was so characteristic of the early Viggens. It turned out to be a real exercise in masking. First, I scanned the Heller painting instructions for the photo bird, then photo-shopped them to the same size as the kit using actual kit wing span and fuselage measurements. Then I printed several copies of each view, attached them to frisket paper with Scotch 77 aerosol adhesive. Then it was just a matter of cutting out the various color masks and fitting to the appropriate fuselage and wing positions by color to be masked. I started with light green over all, then dark tan, dark olive and finally interior black. All paints were Testors Model Master enamels mixed to match photos. I spent several days masking and painting the complex color scheme using an Iwata Eclipse HP-CS airbrush. Finally I used the excellent Flying Colors Aerodecals sheet 72-109 to finish my model as aircraft 02, F13, at Norrkoping Air Base in Sweden.
Overall, this was another enjoyable build of an older kit. If you just want to add a Viggen to the collection, you might consider the two tone gray scheme as an easier alternative. But if you want a painting challenge, this is your project. I think the aftermarket parts added a lot to the finished model and were well worth the investment. Recommended.